Happy Families and Special Relationships

  • Jonathan Charteris-BlackEmail author


In this chapter I show how our capacity to form all sorts of different social relationships served as the model for framing Britain’s relationship with the European Union. I distinguish between family metaphors such as ‘father’, ‘brother’ and the ‘European family’ and more emotionally detached metaphors such as ‘partner’ and ‘neighbour’ and show how there was a shift away from family metaphors after the Referendum. Drawing on the ‘nation-as-person’ frame, knowledge of interpersonal relationships provided the grounds for metaphors to discuss moral issues arising from Brexit. When a nation is framed as a person it implies that its relationship with other nations are like interpersonal relationships: just as a person can get married, so an outward looking alliance with another country can be described metaphorically as a ‘marriage’. But there is a second frame in which the nation as a whole is framed as a family. This metaphor has a different argument because it implies that a shared sense of belonging is best found through the idea of a family within the nation. I will refer to this as the ‘nation as family’ frame. The ‘nation as family’ frame draws on the moral foundation of Loyalty/Betrayal and overcomes divisions within a group of people but is inward looking and tribal in nature. By contrast, when a group of nations refers to itself metaphorically as a ‘family’ based on the ‘nation as person’ frame it draws on the moral foundation of Care/Harm and implies that a shared sense of identity reaches out across national boundaries. It is outward looking and can overcome tensions and conflicts between sovereign nation states by rejecting blood-based tribalism. Between the two contrasting frames are a set of intermediary metaphors that have varying levels of emotional intimacy ranging from ‘friends’ at the more intimate end of a scale to ‘partners’ and then ‘neighbours’ at the less intimate end. Many Brexiteers framed the Commonwealth as an alternative ‘family’ to which Britain could return now that the EU were no more than ‘neighbours’ or ‘partners’. Both sides employed the frame of the ‘club’ as a metaphor scenario that drew on the moral foundation of Fairness and Cheating to deliberate over Britain’s obligations (or otherwise) when withdrawing from the EU.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and EducationUniversity of the West of EnglandBristolUK

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